Alastair Reynolds: Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds

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Alastair Reynolds Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds
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    Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds
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Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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This is an amazing collection of some of the best short fiction ever written in the SF genre, by an author acclaimed as ‘the mastersinger of space opera’ (THE TIMES). Alastair Reynolds has won the Sidewise Award and been nominated for The Hugo Awards for his short fiction. One of the most thought-provoking and accomplished short-fiction writers of our time, this collection is a delight for all SF readers.

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“This isn’t what you thought it would be like, is it.”

“No…not at all.” There seemed no point lying to her. “We thought you’d raise your young in a simplified version of the machine-generated environment you experience.”

“In the early days that’s more or less what we did.” Subtly, Galiana’s tone of voice had changed. “Do you know why chimpanzees are less intelligent than humans?”

He blinked at the change of tack. “I don’t know—are their brains smaller?”

“Yes—but a dolphin’s brain is larger, and they’re scarcely more intelligent than dogs.” Galiana stooped next to a vacant tree stump. Without seeming to do anything, she made a diagram of mammal brain anatomies appear on the trunk’s upper surface, then sketched her finger across the relevant parts. “It’s not overall brain volume that counts so much as the developmental history. The difference in brain volume between a neonatal chimp and an adult is only about twenty percent. By the time the chimp receives any data from beyond the womb, there’s almost no plasticity left to use. Similarly, dolphins are born with almost their complete repertoire of adult behaviour already hardwired. A human brain, on the other hand, keeps growing through years of learning. We inverted that thinking. If data received during post-natal growth was so crucial to intelligence, perhaps we could boost our intelligence even further by intervening during the earliest phases of brain development.”

“In the womb?”

“Yes.” Now she made the tree-trunk show a human embryo running through cycles of cell-division, until the faint fold of a rudimentary spinal nerve began to form, nubbed with the tiniest of emergent minds. Droves of subcellular machines swarmed in, invading the nascent nervous system. Then the embryo’s development slammed forward, until Clavain was looking at an unborn human baby.

“What happened?”

“It was a grave error,” Galiana said. “Instead of enhancing normal neural development, we impaired it terribly. All we ended up with were various manifestations of savant syndrome.”

Clavain looked around him. “Then you let these kids develop normally?”

“More or less. There’s no family structure, of course, but then again there are plenty of human and primate societies where the family is less important in child development than the cohort group. So far we haven’t seen any pathologies.”

Clavain watched as one of the older children was escorted out of the grassy room, through a door in the sky. When the Conjoiner reached the door the child hesitated, tugging against the man’s gentle insistence. The child looked back for a moment, then followed the man through the gap.

“Where’s that child going?”

“To the next stage of its development.”

Clavain wondered what were the chances of him seeing the nursery just as one of the children was being promoted. Small, he judged—unless there was a crash program to rush as many of them through as quickly as possible. As he thought about this, Galiana took him into another part of the nursery. While this room was smaller and dourer it was still more colourful than any other part of the nest he had seen before the grassy room. The walls were a mosaic of crowded, intermingling displays, teeming with moving images and rapidly scrolling text. He saw a herd of zebra stampeding through the core of a neutron star. Elsewhere an octopus squirted ink at the face of a twentieth-century despot. Other display facets rose from the floor like Japanese paper screens, flooded with data. Children—up to early teenagers—sat on soft black toadstools next to the screens in little groups, debating.

A few musical instruments lay around unused: holoclaviers and air-guitars. Some of the children had grey bands around their eyes and were poking their fingers through the interstices of abstract structures, exploring the dragon-infested waters of mathematical space. Clavain could see what they were manipulating on the flat screens: shapes that made his head hurt even in two dimensions.

“They’re nearly there,” Clavain said. “The machines are outside their heads, but not for long. When does it happen?”

“Soon; very soon.”

“You’re rushing them, aren’t you. Trying to get as many children Conjoined as you can. What are you planning?”

“Something…has arisen, that’s all. The timing of your arrival is either very bad or very fortunate, depending on your point of view.” Before he could query her, Galiana added: “Clavain; I want you to meet someone.”


“Someone very precious to us.”

She took him through a series of child-proof doors until they reached a small circular room. The walls and ceiling were veined grey; tranquil after what he had seen in the last place. A child sat cross-legged on the floor in the middle of the room. Clavain estimated the girl’s age as ten standard years—perhaps fractionally older. But she did not respond to Clavain’s presence in any way an adult, or even a normal child, would have. She just kept on doing the thing she had been doing when they stepped inside, as if they were not really present at all. It was not at all clear what she was doing. Her hands moved before her in slow, precise gestures. It was as if she were playing a holoclavier or working a phantom puppet show. Now and then she would pivot round until she was facing another direction and carry on doing the hand movements.

“Her name’s Felka,” Galiana said.

“Hello, Felka…” He waited for a response, but none came. “I can see there’s something wrong with her.”

“She was one of the savants. Felka developed with machines in her head. She was the last to be born before we realised our failure.”

Something about Felka disturbed him. Perhaps it was the way she carried on regardless, engrossed in an activity to which she seemed to attribute the utmost significance, yet which had to be without any sane purpose.

“She doesn’t seem aware of us.”

“Her deficits are severe,” Galiana said. “She has no interest in other human beings. She has prosopagnosia; the inability to distinguish faces. We all seem alike to her. Can you imagine something more strange than that?”

He tried, and failed. Life from Felka’s viewpoint must have been a nightmarish thing, surrounded by identical clones whose inner lives she could not begin to grasp. No wonder she seemed so engrossed in her game.

“Why is she so precious to you?” Clavain asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

“She’s keeping us alive,” Galiana said.

* * *

OF COURSE, HE asked Galiana what she meant by that. Galiana’s only response was to tell him that he was not yet ready to be shown the answer.

“And what exactly would it take for me to reach that stage?”

“A simple procedure.”

Oh yes, he understood that part well enough. Just a few machines in the right parts of his brain and the truth could be his. Politely, doing his best to mask his distaste, Clavain declined. Fortunately, Galiana did not press the point, for the time had arrived for the meeting he had been promised before his arrival on Mars.

He watched a subset of the nest file in to the conference room. Galiana was their leader only inasmuch as she had founded the lab here from which the original experiment had sprung and was accorded some respect deriving from seniority. She was also the most obvious spokesperson among them. They all had areas of expertise which could not be easily shared among other Conjoined; very distinct from the hive-mind of identical clones which still figured in the Coalition’s propaganda. If the nest was in any way like an ant colony, then it was an ant colony in which every ant fulfilled a distinct role from all the others. Naturally, no individual could be solely entrusted with a particular skill essential to the nest—that would have been dangerous over-specialisation—but neither had individuality been completely subsumed into the group mind.

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